Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Candida auris is a dangerous fungal infection that emerged in 2009 in Japan and has now spread round the world, especially in hospitals. It is a superbug: a germ that has evolved defences against medicines and cannot be treated. These include antifungals such as fluconazole (Diflucan), the antifungal drug of choice in many countries, and recently introduced antifungals known as echinocandins. First identified in Japan in 2009 after isolation from a patient’s ear, it is responsible for the rapidly increasing, hospital-acquired, invasive infections worldwide. It is a threat to intensive care units, because it can survive normal decontaminants such as chlorhexidine and bleach. Some hospitals have had to rip out floor and ceiling tiles to get rid of it.

If it gets into the bloodstream it can be life threatening. People with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable - newborns, the elderly, people who have other infections, diabetics, people who have undergone antibiotic or antifungal therapy.

The rise of C. auris has been little publicized, in part because it is new. Outbreaks have been kept confidential by hospitals, doctors, even governments, as publicizing them would scare people into not going for other treatment. In America, the Centre for Disease Control is not allowed to make public the name of hospitals involved in outbreaks.

The symptoms of C. auris — fever, aches, fatigue — are not unusual, so it is hard to recognize the infection without testing. It is frequently misdiagnosed. One sign is that fever and chills  don't subside after being treated with antibiotics. Coma, organ failure and death may occur if appropriate treatment is delayed. Around 30-50 percent of patients, who contract Candida auris, die. The fungus can live for a long time on patients' skin, and in health care facilities, allowing it to spread to new patients.

Why is it spreading so rapidly across the globe ?

1. One reason is the indiscriminate doling out of antibiotics and antifungals by the medical community. This allows microbes to adapt, evolve and outsmart drugs. Without antimicrobials that work, common medical procedures, like hip operations, C-sections, or chemotherapy, have become more dangerous, and medical interventions — organ transplants, chemotherapy — may become impossible to survive. Gonorrhoea, certain strains of tuberculosis to name a few, no longer respond to any medicine.

2. The more important reason is that each country uses the same drugs on animals grown for food. In India we use tonnes of antibiotics and antifungals in poultries, piggeries. Animals are forcibly grown in such terrible conditions that keeping them alive, till they are large enough to be killed, is impossible without them. This applies in India mainly to the poultry industry, which has overstuffed birds in filthy cages with their beaks and toes cut off, infested with mites and fed rubbish. Their antibiotic/antifungal laced faeces spreads in land and water.  We eat contaminated food and drink contaminated water.

80% of India’s antibiotics are used to promote livestock and poultry growth, and protect the animals from the bacterial consequences of the filthy environments in which they are grown. In America 34 million pounds a year of antibiotics are used. In India it is more than that. According to the latest WHO surveys India is the largest user of antibiotics and fungicides in the world – and the country that originated the germ resistant to all medicine - the superbug.

3. Modern agricultural practices also depend on these drugs. C. auris’s resistance is traceable to industrial agriculture’s mass application of fungicides used in diverse crops like wheat, banana, barley, soyabeans, apples, grapes, soft fruits, corn, among  others.

In a paper “Worldwide emergence of resistance to antifungal drugs challenges human health and food security” by scientists Matthew C. Fisher and colleagues published in Science  2018, six main classes of fungicides – azoles, morpholines, benzimidazoles, strobilurins, succinate dehydrogenase inhibitors, anilinopyrimidines -  have been identified, which were hardly used in agriculture before 2007. It is not a coincidence that the fungi affecting us have all turned into superbugs in that period.

Azoles, used in both crop protection and medical settings,  are broad-spectrum fungicides, annihilating a wide range of fungi rather than targeting a specific type. They are now 26% of all fungicides used.

Candida auris is not the only deadly fungus which is showing multidrug resistance. One fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus, has been killing 2 lakh people every year. This species colonizes decaying vegetation in fields, forests, and compost heaps. It attacks immunocompromised humans. Azole antifungals itraconazole, voriconazole, and posaconazole have long been used to treat pulmonary asperillogosis, the infection caused by A. fumigatus, but in the last ten years it has developed a resistance to antifungal drugs. Studies, comparing long-term azole users and patients just beginning to take the drug, have shown that drug-resistant A. fumigatus was prevalent in both groups, showing clearly that the resistance has come from the food they are exposed to, rather than the medicines they were taking. Studies done in Bogota, Columbia, found  A. fumigatus in agricultural fields using fungicides. Soils were sampled from an array of crop fields treated with itraconazole or voriconazole fungicides. A. fumigatus was grown in the lab on agar treated with the same antifungals. In more than 25% of cases, A. fumigatus persisted despite the fungicide treatment. This simply means that, due to agricultural practices, Aspergillus is entering hospitals already adapted to the antifungals designed to check its spread.

Drug resistant strains of  Candida albicans,  C. glabrata and Cryptococcus neoformans, have also been recently reported. Candida glabrata has become the main bloodstream pathogen recovered from patients. There is also a growing threat from pathogenic fungi such as Aspergillus terreus, Scedosporium spp., Fusarium spp., and members of the Mucorales.

Azole fungicides need to be banned in crop management. The dangers of continuing upon this path of agricultural management are acute. Twenty-five forms of agricultural azoles are in use, compared to just three forms of medical azoles. Obviously, the medical use of azole based antifungals is ineffective. Azoles are increasingly failing as frontline therapies, with patient mortality approaching 100% . The rate of emergence of fungicide resistance is greater than the pace of fungicide discovery. This situation parallels the situation for antibiotics

But, instead of intervening in the interests of public health to limit azoles, government policy in recent years has promoted their expansion, fostering conditions for virulent drug-resistant fungi. Global sales have tripled since 2005, from $8 billion to $21 billion in 2017. Azoles are used not only for human and animal health care and crop protection, but also in antifouling coatings and timber preservation. Fungicides have expanded  in sales and in geographic distribution. In each new area fungicides percolate into the local environment. In 2012, USGS scientists studied 33 different fungicides used in potato production and found at least one fungicide in 75% of surface water and 58% of ground water samples.

As climate change brings higher overall temperatures and vacillation between drought and heavy rainfall, fungi will spread outside their current ranges. Aspergillus flavus, the producer of a cancer-causing aflatoxin that reduces corn yields and poisons humans, thrives in drought conditions and large crop-water deficits.

Instead of government blaming farmers for illiterate overuse, or using this opportunity to get more GMO gene manipulated seeds, or looking at different drug cocktails that will spew more poison into the environment, agricultural practices will have to be modified to bring back organic food, sustainable crop rotation and intercropping. There is enough evidence to show that this can greatly reduce the presence of fungal diseases. For instance, intercropping soya with flax removed all pathogenic fungi. Researchers in India find that if, instead of using azole fungicide to control potato blight, silica is applied  to the leaves, disease infestation comes down sharply. Surrounding crops, with wild non-crop vegetation, also control fungal pathogens.

We are in a vicious spiral. As we use more fungicides, more and more resistant pathogenic fungi emerge. Fungi have highly plastic genomes and adapt rapidly. We are seeing the continual emergence of new races of plant-infecting fungi able to overcome both host defences and chemical treatments. The first case of resistance against the benzimidazoles (MBCs) was reported in 1969, and now MBC resistance is known to occur in more than 90 plant pathogens. Azole resistance in a plant pathogen was first reported in 1981. Resistance to strobilurins was reported in field trials even before commercial introduction, and in wider field populations within 2 years of release. A new generation of succinate dehydrogenase inhibitors was introduced in 2007, but by 2017 resistance were found in 17 pathogen species. Today, crop-destroying fungi account for annual yield losses of 20% worldwide, with a further 10% loss postharvest.

By doing intensive farming, and using broad-scale pesticide applications, we breed out the plants’ own defences. In parallel, the number of humans at risk from fungal infections is rising rapidly. To avoid a global collapse in our ability to control fungal infections, and to avoid critical failures in medicine and food security, we must put public health before company fiscal health.

The global mortality rate for fungal diseases now exceeds that for malaria or breast cancer, and is comparable to those for tuberculosis and HIV. But no Indian government has even applied its mind to this huge problem. The pesticide ministry is in one corner, far away from the health ministry, and the two have never met to discuss issues like this. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Ants and bees have become paragons of a system that’s coordinated but without central control. Intelligence does not belong to one dictating alpha, but is distributed across the entire group. Two types of intelligence operate in a group : adaptive - which means decisions stem from the interplay between individuals, and collective - a group of agents acting together as a single cognitive unit.

Organisms are inherently competitive, yet cooperation is widespread. Genes cooperate in genomes, cells cooperate in tissues, and individuals cooperate in societies. Traditionally, when human societies weren’t as big as they have become, healthy, enduring social structures amongst humans were formed in small family and tribal units and lasted for centuries. In contrast, when humans have attempted to gather in nations and empires, endless troubles, power-struggles and instabilities have emerged.

For both, humans and animals, living in a group makes sense because there are many more beings to provide vigilance and defence, mating is easier, help is available, heat is conserved better. Foraging is easier. So is babysitting, feeding, sleeping, huddling, hibernating, and migrating.

Animals may aggregate by mutual attraction to each other, or by mutual attraction to limited resources. Bark beetles form large aggregations by mutual attraction to the bark of a fallen log and also to the odours of other members of their species.

Once animals are grouped, a mechanism comes into play that makes group living efficient. In some treehopper aggregations, nymphs communicate the threat of a predator by using vibrations, which humans can detect only with electronic instruments. Eastern tent caterpillars stay in a communal tent that increases in size as they grow and add silk. Colony members leave the tent on brief forays to feed on foliage and lay chemical trails for other group members to follow. In colony birds, such as cliff swallows, unsuccessful individuals often watch other birds returning to their nests with food and follow them to productive foraging sites. Pack of hyenas or wolves cooperate to bring down a zebra.

Migration in herds is common and can involve huge numbers of individuals. More than one million blue wildebeest migrate in a clockwise fashion over the plains of East Africa, covering a distance of over 2,500 km each year in search of grass. The African desert locust swarms cover as much as 200 square km, billions of individuals moving cohesively in search of food.  The now-extinct passenger pigeon of North America, hunted to death for sport, migrated in groups of millions in search of food.

In long-term, stable social groups interactions among members are often altruistic. For example, when a ground squirrel sounds an alarm call to warn other group members of a nearby coyote, it draws the coyote’s attention and increases its own odds of being eaten. Similarly, a female meerkat forgoes reproduction and, instead, feeds the young of another group member.

Over a period of time group living also gives rise to new behaviour. Humans are not the only ones that indulge in nepotism : apes also have preferential treatment of kin, hierarchies in societies are also developed by monkeys and chickens, and individuals form alliances within groups.

Like humans, animals form complex societies. Fish too have groups based on business opportunities. Cleaner fish are in charge of chewing off parasites from the bodies of bigger fish in coral reefs. Over the years they have developed a distinctive blue-yellow uniform colour and stand in groups. Cleaners also have an enforceable customer service code. If they accidentally end up biting a customer, rather than cautiously nibbling off the parasites, the other cleaners punish the irresponsible worker. It’s one of the only observed instances of a species punishing members in a systematic fashion.

Chimpanzees run efficient military operations. During a 10-year study research on a community of chimps in Uganda, scientists found that every so often, groups of chimp males would form up and head north, towards the border between their territory and the neighbouring tribe’s land. They would stealthily move through the jungle in single-file, with practically no eating, or socializing. They would cautiously look for signs of individuals from the other tribe, such as faeces, abandoned termite-fishing tools, etc. When they found a member of the northern tribe on his own, they would kill him right away. After analyzing the pattern, scientists found that the chimpanzees were at war. They were fighting over land and doing it in a very organized way. In Tanzania, researchers witnessed a civil war when one section of angry chimps split from the larger group. Over the next five years, the  breakaway group destroyed the original tribe with a series of sudden, well thought out attacks.

Monkeys always seem to be grooming one another. But more than altruistic group activity, picking lice out of fur is their currency. Females trade grooming for sex, for instance. Researchers saw females would sleep with someone in exchange for eight minutes of grooming. This system obeys the law of supply and demand -- when there were fewer females around, the price went up to 16 minutes of grooming for sex. Grooming isn't exchanged for only sex. Female monkeys groom other females in exchange for favours (for instance, in order to hold their infants for a specific amount of time). When scientists trained a velvet monkey to open crates containing apples for the other monkeys, soon she was the most well-groomed monkey in the group (In a community of monkeys, "rich" monkeys are distinguished by how nice their fur looks). Then they trained another monkey to do the same thing. Sure enough, the amount of grooming the first monkey got dropped in half. 

50 million years before humans thought of growing their own food, ants were already practicing the art of group sustainable agriculture. Leafcutter ants take cut up bits of plants into their ant-hills and, instead of eating them, they lay the bits down and defecate on them so that fungus starts growing. They cultivate this fungus and protect it from other, non-edible fungi – they are not only farming, they’ve also made safe and effective pesticides.

Orcas teach each other everything – from singing, eating new foods to fishing. One of the orca whales at Marine Land, Canada, evolved a brilliant bird-catching method: he would take some fish, chew them and spit them out on the surface of the water as bait. When a bird dived down for the easy meal, the whale would leap up and eat the bird. Soon, the other orcas started doing the same.

Cuttlefish live in schools. They can split their bodies into different patterns to accomplish different things at the same time. One half of its body may be designed to attract a mate, while the other half is a completely different design to conceal itself from predators. They employ shape-shifting strategies to conceal themselves as coral or algae. A cuttlefish has maybe ten million little colour cells in its skin. It can assess the colour and texture, of their surroundings and emulate it in seconds. They even use certain colours to assert dominance in their group.

When frightened, most humans in groups forget the welfare of others and try any means of surviving. That is what causes panic rushes during fires and being trodden over by people in a rush to escape. Sheep do the same. As sheep have limited means of defence from predators, their main defence mechanism is to instinctively flock together and flee from danger. Research has also shown that, instead of fleeing randomly when faced with danger, sheep head straight for the centre of the flock. According to a study done by Andrew King, and published in Current Biology , the strongest sheep will fight their way to the centre, which offers them greater protection.

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

We always knew that dogs were good for our mental health. Many studies, like the one conducted by Dr Laurie Santos, professor of psychology and director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University, have shown how even brief interactions with dogs can significantly alleviate our mood and reduce our anxiety levels. Research shows their positive effect on their guardians’ health, such as lowering blood pressure, combating loneliness, encouraging physical activity, and promoting an overall sense of happiness.

Pets, specially dogs, are increasingly viewed as family. Research among American (Blouin 2013) and Israeli (Shir-Vertesh 2012) adults, for example, shows that a growing number of pet owners describe their dog or cat as a “family member.”

As dogs and cats are increasingly viewed as family members, a person’s pets may wield significant influence in human courtship and ultimate partner choice.

How much does a dog’s opinion matter when a woman chooses a date, or a potential mate? While men treat their dogs as companions and friends, women tend to look upon them as their children  as well. As a result, women tend to be more sensitive as to how their partner treats their dog. A cardinal tenet of evolutionary psychology is that women tend to allocate more brownie points, subconsciously, to child-rearing. So, a man’s interaction with a dog provides a woman with clues signaling their date’s qualities as a potential parent, according to the research conducted by the University of Nevada anthropologist Peter Gray, published in Psychology Today.

A man who has a dog automatically leads women to believe that he’s nurturing and responsible with people too, and that he is affectionate and compassionate, especially if he has adopted a rescued dog.

A survey was given to a group of singles, who were registered on the online dating site,, to determine the role companion animals play in partner assessment and partner selection.

The results of the survey showed that women are more sensitive to a potential partner’s treatment of companion animals, because they place greater concern on the well-being of their current companion animals, as well as the possible integration of a partner’s companions into their family. Additionally, women were much more likely than men to judge a date based on how that person reacted to their companion animal, so they could decide if that person was worth dating and whether he will be kind, committed, and engaged with their own future children.

Women also placed value on how their dog reacted to a potential mate, in the same way that she would put value on how her human children would react to a potential mate. The survey found that women are more satisfied in their relationships when their partners feel the same way they do about their companion animals, and when there is harmony in the household.

Dogs serve more commonly as social guidelines in the dating world than cats. Companion cats tend to be less social and demanding, and less integrated into their guardians’ lives, so they show less of a potential partner’s caregiving capacity.

Most of the singles in the study stated that they would approach someone they were attracted to, if that person had a dog with them, mainly because dogs are easy conversation starters.

Do men realize this? Most do. When asked “Have you ever used a pet to attract a potential date?”, a much higher percentage of men than women reported having done so. Which means that  men know that these traits are desirable to prospective mates. In a study conducted by Gueguen and Ciccoti , published in Anthrozoos, a man with a dog was more likely to obtain unfamiliar woman’s phone number during a meeting in a public space, than the same man without a dog. Another study, done by Tifferet et al. in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, showed that women evaluate men as more attractive if these men were described as dog owners. Anecdotal data also suggests that an adult’s perception of pet dogs (example, particularly whether they are allergic to them, or if they do not like to take care of animals) may also play a role in mate selection.

Do dogs get an active say in your selection of mate? Do they eavesdrop on your conversations, pick up clues, form opinions?

The answer is yes.

Kazuo Fujita, the lead researcher of Kyoto University in Japan, tested 18 canines. In this test, the dogs watched as their owners asked a stranger to help him open a box. In the first scenario, the stranger refused to aid the owner. In the second, the stranger came to the owner's rescue. And in the third, the stranger remained neutral, neither helping nor refusing aid. Afterwards, the strangers approached the dogs with treats. The animals refused to take food from the strangers who had snubbed their owners. They took treats from the helpful and neutral parties.

Over the process of domestication, the human-dog bond has evolved. The dog studies the guardian’s behaviour, says Oscar E. Chavez, DVM, at Cal Poly Pomona University. “They’re watching our every move to see if we give them clues as to our intentions. In this way, they can anticipate that it’s time for a walk, or see that you are getting ready to leave, or perhaps that it’s dinnertime. They’ve become the animal kingdom’s human language experts — both physical and spoken language.”

Dogs make their opinions clear as to whether the male, a woman is seeing, is a good partner in the long run or not. Since they are not attracted superficially and have spent time analyzing behaviour, it might be better to rely on their judgment rather than yours- they could save you from yourself!

Here are a few signs that indicate that your dog disapproves of the man you’re seeing:

* A stiff tail between the legs and ears pinned to the back.

* Growling or snarling.

* A polite sniff of the crotch is a stamp of approval. A crotch bite, on the other hand is not.

* If your pup is licking your guy by the third date you’re ok. If that lick of approval happens on the first date, keep the man!

* If your date throws a stick and the dog, who normally fetches everything, refuses to fetch the stick it’s a sign of massive disapproval.

* Refusal to greet him.

* Refusal to leave you alone in his company.

* Not letting your man take the lead while the two of them go for a walk together.  If your dog is walking him, you know the dog has no respect for this man. But if your dog is well-behaved, and heeling, it's ok. If he goes to the bathroom in front of your man, your dog is very comfortable and it’s a double yes. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

One day we will know for sure that all the trees we killed and the grass we pulled out, all the plants we mutilate and the flowers we arrange in vases – all of them have the same senses and intelligence as us. They are not inanimate, passive species, but highly evolved beings.

In India we have people who have reached a point where they have become one with themselves and nature. All our gurus of every religion have talked about non-dual awareness - no me and you, just one, being the key to the liberated vision that is the true meaning of happiness.

Dr Monica Gagliano of the University of Sydney has written an amazing book” Thus Spoke the Plant” (North Atlantic Books). She has taken the difficult path of showing, through scientific experimentation, the different senses of the plant. I am going to write about two of her experiments.

There is an elementary type of learning called “habituation,” in which a subject is taught to focus on important information, while filtering out irrelevant rubbish. How long does it take the animal to recognize that a stimulus is “rubbish,” and how long will it remember what it has learned? Gagliano wanted to know whether the same thing can be done by a plant. Mimosa pudica, the Sensitive Plant, is that rare plant with a behaviour both speedy and visible. As children you have played at touching its fernlike leaves (chooee mooee) to watch them fold up immediately. This is probably a defence mechanism, or to frighten insects into staying away.  The mimosa also collapses its leaves when the plant is dropped or jostled. Gagliano potted fifty-six mimosa plants and made a system to drop them from a height of fifteen centimetres every five seconds. Each “session” involved sixty drops. In the beginning each mimosa plant folded its leaves as soon as they were dropped. But some of the mimosas started to reopen their leaves after just four, five, or six drops, as if they had concluded that nothing bad was going to happen and they could ignore the happening. By the end, all of them were completely open, no matter how many times they were dropped. Was this just fatigue? Apparently not: when the plants were shaken, they again closed up. The plant had attuned itself to a new stimulus. Gagliano  retested her plants after a week and found that they continued to disregard the drop stimulus, indicating that they “remembered” what they had learned. Even after twenty-eight days, the lesson had not been forgotten.

Humans insist that intelligence comes from an identifiable “brain”, a command centre . It could well be cells exchanging intelligent signals in a network. Memory is part of intelligence – and yet we know so little about how it works. We think that animal memory involves the laying down of new pathways in a network of neurons. But there are ways to store information that don’t require neurons. Immune cells “remember” their experience of pathogens, and call on that memory in subsequent encounters. In plants, it is known that experiences such as stress can alter the molecular wrapping around the chromosomes, and this determines which genes will be silenced. Scientists now know that events, like traumas and starvation, change animal brains and can be passed on to offspring. This is what happens in plants as well.

In another experiment Gagiliano places a parasitic vine, Cuscuta europaea,  near potential host plants. This white vine coils itself around the stalk of another plant and sucks nourishment from it. The vine always chooses, assessing by scent, the host which offers the best potential nourishment. Having selected a target, the vine then performs a cost-benefit calculation before deciding exactly how many coils it should invest—the more nutrients in the victim, the more coils it deploys.

The book is full of such experiments. But it is more than just scientific. Gagliano invites us to see the world at a far more profound level, than the one that we are accustomed to. We have a constructed a simplistic narrative of plants lacking in intelligence or sentience. This version ignores their evolutionary history. It is only human arrogance that keeps us from appreciating their intelligence and success. Plants dominate every terrestrial environment, composing ninety-nine per cent of the biomass on earth. In comparison, humans and all animals are just traces.

Many years ago, Dr Ashok Khosla (the head of Club of Rome – one of the best recognised collection of scientific minds) of Development Alternatives, and I visited a place in Italy called Damanhur headed by a seer called Falco. It is a place where the best minds go and it is humming with experiments on how to live. One of the things we saw was a small machine that, when attached to a plant, brings its voice down to human hearing levels. Meaning : you can hear it speak. Not in any way that humans can understand, but it certainly converses with another plant attached to a machine too. It is a conversation: one speaks, then the other. Another species of plant has a different language, but in time learns the first.

“The Secret Life of Plants,” by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, described the experiments of a C.I.A. polygraph expert named Cleve Backster, who, in 1966, hooked up the galvanometer to the leaf of a dracaena plant. Backster found that by simply imagining the dracaena on fire he could make the needle of the polygraph machine go up and down, registering a surge of electrical activity that in human beings meant stress. “Could the plant have been reading his mind?” the authors ask. “Can plants think?”

Backster and his collaborators went on to hook up polygraph machines to dozens of plants, including lettuces, onions, oranges, and bananas. They found that plants reacted to the thoughts of humans in close proximity and, in the case of humans familiar to them, over a great distance. In one memory experiment , Backster found that a plant that had witnessed the murder (by stomping) of another plant could pick out the killer from a lineup of six suspects, registering a surge of electrical activity when the murderer was brought before it. Backster’s plants also displayed a strong aversion to interspecies violence. Some had a stressful response when an egg was cracked in their presence, or when live shrimp were dropped into boiling water, an experiment that Backster wrote up for the International Journal of Parapsychology, in 1968. They are capable of cognition, communication, information processing, computation, learning, and memory.

Our tendency to equate behaviour with mobility, keeps us from appreciating what plants can do. In fact, many of the most impressive capabilities of plants can be traced to the fact that they are unable to move when they need something, or when conditions turn unfavourable. Imagine defending yourself and finding everything you need while being fixed in one place. Plants have evolved between fifteen and twenty distinct senses, including variations of our five: smell and taste (they sense and respond to chemicals in the air, or on their bodies); sight (they react differently to various wavelengths of light, as well as to shadow); touch (a vine, or a root, “knows” when it encounters a solid object); and sound. In an experiment, Heidi Appel, a chemical scientist at the University of Missouri, found that when she played a recording of a caterpillar chomping on a leaf, for a plant that hadn’t been touched, the sound primed the plant to produce defence chemicals. Another experiment found that plant roots would seek out a buried pipe through which water was flowing, even if the exterior of the pipe was dry, which suggests that the plants could “hear” the sound of flowing water.

Unable to run away, plants deploy a complex vocabulary to signal distress, deter or poison enemies, and recruit animals to perform various services for them. A study in Science found that the caffeine produced by plants functions not only to keep away certain insects but as an addictive drug in their nectar, which keeps bringing the same bees back, making them faithful and effective pollinators.

We now know that when a plant’s leaves are infected, or chewed, by insects they emit chemicals that signal other leaves to mount a defence. This warning signal contains information about the identity of the insect. The defence involves altering the leaf’s flavour or texture, or producing toxins that render the plant’s flesh less digestible. When antelopes browse acacia trees, the trees let them. When the eating increases, the leaves produce tannins that make them unappetizing. When food is scarce and acacias are over-browsed, the trees produce sufficient amounts of toxins to kill the animals.

Plants signal insects as well.  Corn and lima beans emit a chemical distress call when attacked by caterpillars. Parasitic wasps, some distance away, follow the scent to the afflicted plant and destroy the caterpillars.

Two years ago the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored a think tank on plant communication in Seattle, and thirty leading scientists attended it. Open your senses. Change your view of the world and what you do with it. If you realised that your table was a magnificent talking, thinking being, you would not be in such a hurry to get wooden furniture into your house, use paper, toothpicks, or  make your offerings with agarbatti sticks. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Are we the only ones who vote, drink, sleep around, eavesdrop on conversations? Every animal does the same thing. So, why not see the world through a new lens and realise that all of us are the same. It will make it easier for you not to make them suffer, or tolerate people and decisions that make them suffer. The latest decision by the new President of Brazil, that the Amazon forests should be cut and housing/mining instituted there, will destroy not just thousands of species of animals, insects and native people, but bring the world much closer to the terrible end  it deserves. One man can change the world for the worse. Why don’t you be the one person who changes it for the better – even if it is just in your own area.

* Chickens value social status and each group has a very strict power hierarchy. When roosters mate with females, according to a study done by Oxford University and printed in The American Naturalist, the hens selectively eject sperm, from their reproductive tracts, from roosters who are low in rank, making sure that they only bear chicks from superior ranking fathers rather than from low status ones.

Both sexes mate with multiple partners. Hens sometimes don't have a choice in mates. They prefer important males, but other roosters with lower status will force them — the females are half their size — to mate. Rather than attempt to fight off undesirable mates, hens have developed a more subtle way to reject them.

* Alcohol/ethanol consumption occurs in every human society that has access to fermentable raw materials. Chimpanzees drink alcohol too. The Royal Science Open Society scientists discovered that the chimps in Guinea frequently drink  fermented palm sap, a naturally-occurring alcohol, that human locals are also partial to. The chimps also use utensils to gather and drink this liquor, namely, crushed leaves they used as “sponges” to sop it up and move it to their mouths—often in such copious quantities that some of them actually get drunk.

The slow loris  ingests fermented nectar (3.8% ethanol content) from the Bertam palm. Green monkeys on St Kitts target tourist cocktails. However, like humans primates, are not attracted to, and rarely eat, over-ripe fruit (which contain higher levels of ethanol).

* People watch other people and this allows us to figure out who's nice and who's mean. Do dogs do the same? Scientists, Chijiiwaa, Kuroshimaa et al, tested 54 dogs that each watched their owners struggle to retrieve something from a container. The dogs were divided into three groups: helper, non-helper, and control.

In the helper group, in the presence of the dogs, the owner requested help from another person, who then held the container for him. In the non-helper group, the owner asked for help from a person, who then turned their back without helping. In the control group, the person helped without being asked for help.

After the interaction each offered a piece of food to the dog. Dogs chose food either from the helper, or the control person, but refused to take something from the nonhelper. The dogs' avoidance of someone who behaved negatively to the owner suggests that social eavesdropping is common to all species.

*According to, when humans are shocked, or extremely frightened, the hair on their arms and sometimes their neck literally stands on end. The same applies to felines. Adrenaline rush causes the phenomenon. Raised hackles in humans as well as in cats signify fear, imminent aggression or shock. The same applies to dilated pupils. The human eye tends to expand involuntarily in extreme situations, just as it does in cats. Humans express self-satisfaction, pride or cockiness, by walking very erect and throwing their head back and thrusting the chin forward. The equivalent behaviour, typical to cats, is stalking or prancing around, head up and tail in the air.

* When a human male proposes, he offers a precious stone to his beloved. So does a penguin. According to Edinburgh zoo studies, pebbles are the most prized possession of Adelie penguins, equivalent to diamonds for humans. Adelie penguins use pebbles to make their nests and help keep their eggs afloat in the freezing water. Because they live on the frozen, barren Antartica coast, these are scarce. Penguins are notorious for stealing each other pebbles and fighting over them. During courtship, the male will present the female with a pebble as a gift. If the female accepts the generous gift, they mate for life.

But, like humans, female penguins, whether they are single or attached, will provide sex for stones, as the BBC recorded in Deep into the Wild series. The prostitution starts with the female penguin flirting with the male penguin. She will initiate a courtship ritual by joining him at his site and “head-bowing” to him. This is soon followed by copulation. After that, the female penguin will take a stone from his nesting site and return to her nest. Sometimes, she will come back for even more stones which the male will allow her to take.

* A study by psychologists in McGill University and the University of British Columbia, Canada, published in Nature Methods, shows that mice, like humans, express pain through facial expressions in the same way humans do.

Scientists do their pain research on mice, which means subjecting them to terrible cruelty. Scientists have developed a Mouse Grimace Scale which shows that as the pain increases the mouse shows the same contortions of the face that  humans show. Five facial features are scored: orbital tightening (eye closing), nose and cheek bulges and ear and whisker positions, according to the severity of the stimulus.

* Are humans the only ones that vote?  Red deer of Eurasia live in large herds, either grazing or sitting down. Some deer are ready to move on before others are, but, research by biologists Conradt and Roper have noted that herds only move when 60 percent of the adults stand up — essentially voting with their feet. Even if a dominant individual is more experienced, and makes fewer mistakes than its underlings, herds typically favour democratic decisions over autocratic ones.

African buffalo also make group decisions about when and where to move. Researchers realized that what looked like random stretching is actually voting behaviour in which females indicate their travel preferences by standing up, staring in one direction and then lying back down.

"Only adult females vote, regardless of their social status within the herd," biologist David Sloan Wilson writes. The herd moves always in the direction of the majority gaze. “On days in which cows differ sharply in their direction of gaze, the herd tends to split and graze in separate patches for the night." 

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